FACEBOOK'S TAKE on
RUSSIAN OPERATIONS DURING THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
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In July 2015, Russia began
penetration of servers at Democratic National Committee (DNC)
headquarters, and then exploited stolen documents on Facebook during
the 2016 campaign. Next to nothing was done to protect either the
DNC or Facebook from exploitation. What are the official reports
on this episode?
Here is a condensed re-write of: Information Operations and Facebook, 27Apr2017, 13pp
enriched by the Director of National Intelligence report 6Jan2017, 25pp.
EDITOR: J. I. Nelson, IEEE
Today, civic engagement takes place
in an "information ecosystem" rapidly evolving with the planet's own
globalization, something driven in turn by the information networks on
which Facebook is another "platform". In today's civic discourse,
anyone can have access, and then produce as well as consume; everyone
an increased speed and
an increased scale of impact.
[EDITOR: These social platforms could
arise on big, fiber-optic networks once software arose to manage "big
data" deployed across globally-distributed data centers and managed on
elastically growing and contracting drive arrays.]
The network's immediacy, reach, and
always-on persistence changes contact on them from person-to-person
messaging into group-social interactions.]
Social networks have social
amplification. Everyone is a potential social amplifier, and social
amplification varies with social passions, not with truth.
False amplifiers can be created with
false accounts on any social network. The account creation is
performed by paid staff of government or non-state actors. The
creation of a "large numbers of sparsely populated fake accounts that
... engage with content at high volumes" is not currently
well-automated. Following account creation, engagement for false
social amplification requires "people with language skills and a basic
knowledge of the political situation in the target countries".
[EDITOR: Director of National Intelligence 6Jan2017 says these people
work in St. Petersburg at the Internet Research Agency funded by a
close Putin ally.]
False amplifiers must arouse
passions, perhaps through sensationalism, to achieve social
amplification of their message. False news is used for
passion-arousing sensationalism, as well as for the deception
itself. Deception is pursued with disinformation methods that
include black propaganda (false flag news): "seeding stories to
journalists . . ., including via fake online personas". [EDITOR: e.g.,
THE INFORMATION OPERATION AGAINST THE UNITED STATES ELECTION
FACEBOOK: "...we believe that
campaigns based upon leaked or stolen information can be especially
effective in driving engagement" because of their high inherent
For the Democratic National Committee
and John Podesta e-mail leaks, FACEBOOK believes that there was
"reconnaissance", "cyber operations against individuals" using
"malware" on a few machines to exfiltrate "credentials" for many other
machines, followed by "spearphishing" those other machines, or
"account-takeover" where user/password credentials were already
available, and then "data theft" from the entire server. With
"account takeover", there is no need for "targeted data collection" by
malware, as the entire server can be exfiltrated. [EDITOR: "In July
2015, Russian intelligence gained access to Democratic National
Committee (DNC) networks and maintained that access until at least June
2016." --Director of National Intelligence report of 6Jan2017. FACEBOOK
"believes"/accepts these findings, and admits to no forensics of their
"Content Creation" then began, by
"seeding of stories to press, meme and story generation, and fake
account/persona creation" on FACEBOOK's own platform.
[SOCIAL AMPLIFICATION, EDITOR: The
initial "amplifiers" were individual bloggers with whom case officers
(operatives) might have had contact, now approached by
concealed-identity, online sources or "personas". The most famous
persona was Gucifer 2.0 -- the original Gucifer, 1.0 as it were, is a
Romanian now in jail. Gucifer 2.0 was a front for more than one
individual and a source of stolen Democratic party documents before
they were dumped wholesale onto WikiLeaks. Later amplification used
social media platforms, where false amplifier groups running on false
accounts have to be set up ahead of time to launch a social response.]
FACEBOOK describes early amplifiers
on their own platform as "a smaller number of carefully curated
accounts that exhibit authentic characteristics with well-developed
"False amplification" proceeded with
"fake accounts spreading memes [easily-perceived logos and mythology]
and content, creation of astroturfing groups, and comment[-area] spam."
FACEBOOK believes the intent was:
1. "Promoting or denigrating a specific cause or issue.
2. "Sowing distrust in political institutions.
3. "Spreading confusion . . . muddying civic discourse and
pitting rival factions against one another.
In several instances, we identified malicious actors on FACEBOOK who,
via inauthentic accounts, actively engaged across the political spectrum
with the apparent intent of increasing tensions between supporters
of these groups and fracturing their supportive base."
THE INFORMATION OPERATION AGAINST THE UNITED STATES: PODESTA EMAILS
For [implicitly] the John Podesta emails, FACEBOOK states:
-- "private...information was accessed and stolen;"
-- "Dedicated sites hosting this data were registered;"
-- "Fake personas were created on Facebook and elsewhere to ...amplify awareness of this
-- Entire social media "pages were created to amplify news accounts of, and
direct people to, the stolen data;" [EDITOR: a social media "page" is
yesterday's Internet "home page," with, today perhaps, separate
pages/screens for education and places lived, photos, movies I recently
watched, my thoughts for the day -- all of them cluttered up with
comments from "friends".]
-- "From there, organic proliferation of the messaging and data through
authentic peer groups and networks was inevitable." [EDITOR: 'viral'
FACEBOOK wishes to remind us that,
although a "set of malicious actors engaged in false amplification",
"the reach of the content spread by these accounts was less than
one-tenth of a percent of the total reach of [all] civic content on
[EDITOR RESPONDS: The 300 petabytes
of data already in FACEBOOK's data centers three years ago is
incomprehensibly large, is a pile of the biggest, most expensive hard
drives today -- 10 terabytes each -- three-quarters of a kilometer
high. This renders trivial by comparison anything FACEBOOK has
failed to detect, control, or clean out.]
"Facebook is not in a position to
make definitive attribution . . . however our data does [sic] not
contradict the attribution provided by the U.S. Director of National
Intelligence" [DNI] in the 6 Jan 2017 report, "Assessing Russian
Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,"
The FBI, CIA, and NSA are confident
Russia used paid media trolls, and sought to undermine Clinton's future
as President when they thought she had one, and undermine her campaign
when they thought it could be killed. Putin directed this
Also: "Russian intelligence obtained
and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local
electoral boards" and "researched US electoral processes and related
technology and equipment" since early 2014, but [EDITOR] chose not to
preferentially block voters by changing registration rolls, enter
voting machines to change machine tallies, or interfere with the
totalizing network for all machines, the DNI implies, albeit it is now
too late to confirm such assertions with an audit.
FACEBOOK CAN DETECT SOCIAL AMPLIFICATION WHICH IS FRAUDULENT
False amplification from fraudulent accounts has a technical fingerprint:
--synchronized account creation
--synchronized content posting
--synchronized responses ("likes", re-postings)
--episodic bouts of content creation
Detecting synchronization does not require FACEBOOK to judge content.
FACEBOOK MOVED AGAINST ELECTION INTERFERENCE IN FRANCE
Foreign financing that leaves
[mis-]information operations "not constrained by per-unit economic
realities" makes detection by FACEBOOK more complex.
Nevertheless, FACEBOOK could "take action against over 30,000 fake accounts" in France as
of April 13. [Emmanuel Macron and Marine LePen emerged as front-runners
on the 23 April 2017 first-round election; Macron's final win was 7 May
SECRET-SERVICE-LIKE ON-LINE PROTECTION NEEDED FOR POLITICAL FIGURES
High-profile FACEBOOK users get
high-sophistication attacks. FACEBOOK has to be "working directly
with government bodies" to achieve the extra protections needed for
such targeted individuals, and targets must also act when notified by
New Facebook "products" (user pop-ups) lower the social amplification factor.
The dear old days of individuals
abusing other individuals (stealing an account and its identity,
abusing and stalking a person online or flooding a forum with
spam) are now eclipsed by the larger problems discussed here, FACEBOOK
notes with apparent pride and perhaps a touch of sadness.
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